Guarding the White Masters’ Fortress

Pankaj Mishra returns to this blog after a longish absence. His column reviews two books (THE SUBTLE BODY: The Story of Yoga in America,
Stefanie Syman and THE GREAT OOM The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, Robert Love) and upon reading it, you have the impression that it is yet another opportunity for Mishra to heap predictable scorn on Yoga and Hinduism. And he gets it very wrong very early:

But then, as two new books on the strange history of yoga in America show, even the most esoteric and ancient spiritual tradition mutates weirdly when it meets a modern culture pursuing happiness with ever diverse means.

We have a case where the authors of both the books have gotten it wrong because Mishra bases his entire column on these books. Either that or Mishra is being his usual misguided-missile self: misreading, and misleading.

As I’ve shown in an earlier post, Yoga has been badly mauled today. To call it esoteric is, well, a Mishraesque concoction. In addition, the mutation that Mishra mentions is no mutation: the American culture, which needs newer fads to feed itself doesn’t need anything to mutate. What Americans follow in the name of Yoga is neither the pursuit of happiness nor Yoga. It’s not even fitness. It’s just a fad.

After meandering for sometime with a few quotes from the book, Mishra proclaims that

Still, this conflation of yoga with the Kama Sutra — India’s most famous exports to the West prior to information technology — would have startled not only its Brahman practitioners in the Himalayas or along the Ganges but also the sages of Walden and Concord who first embraced Indian ideas of nondualism, the indivisibility of mind and matter, and the essential oneness of the universe.

Mishra would have us believe that only Brahmins (Brahmans/Brahmanas) practice Yoga in the Himalayas. We’d like him to show us some evidence as to the non-existence of people of other castes who practice Yoga in the Himalayas or along the Ganges. To address his “conflation” bit, anybody with even the basic theoretical knowledge of both Kama Sutra and Yoga would call Mishra’s bluff. The end of both Yoga and Kama Sutra is Moksha. In other words, you cannot view any concept of Hindu philosophy in isolation. Remember, it’s the West that interpreted the Kama Sutra as a Sex manual, the author of which was a celibate. What does that tell you, Mishra?

Turning his attention to the second book, Pankaj Mishra drops these precious pearls:

The earliest Indian vendors of spirituality, like Swami Vivekananda, who lectured on Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, looked down on the asanas, or poses, of hatha yoga as a defective path to yoga’s goal: the union of the individual self with the divine Self.

Isn’t it interesting how he reduces Swami Vivekananda to a mere “vendor of spirituality?” Given Mishra’s stellar record it is entirely possible that:

a) He has read Swami Vivekananda’s works in full or in sufficient depth.
b) He feels highly elevated by showing the world that Swami Vivekananda was “after all a human being like you and me.”
c) Both a & b

Because it’s superfluous to comment on the secret workings of Mishra’s mind vis a vis Swami Vivekananda, let’s find out for ourselves what Swami Vivekananda said about Hatha Yoga.

But the main part of the activity will lie along the spinal column, so that the one thing necessary for the posture is to hold the spinal column free, sitting erect, holding the three parts — the chest, neck, and head — in a straight line. Let the whole weight of the body be supported by the ribs, and then you have an easy natural postures with the spine straight. You will easily see that you cannot think very high thoughts with the chest in. This portion of the Yoga is a little similar to the Hatha-Yoga which deals entirely with the physical body, its aim being to make the physical body very strong. We have nothing to do with it here, because its practices are very difficult, and cannot be learned in a day, and, after all, do not lead to much spiritual growth. Many of these practices you will find in Delsarte and other teachers, such as placing the body in different postures, but the object in these is physical…The result of this branch of Yoga is to make men live long; health is the chief idea, the one goal of the Hatha-Yogi. He is determined not to fall sick, and he never does. He lives long; a hundred years is nothing to him; he is quite young and fresh when he is 150, without one hair turned grey. But that is all. A banyan tree lives sometimes 5000 years, but it is a banyan tree and nothing more. So, if a man lives long, he is only a healthy animal. One or two ordinary lessons of the Hatha-Yogis are very useful. For instance, some of you will find it a good thing for headaches to drink cold water through the nose as soon as you get up in the morning; the whole day your brain will be nice and cool, and you will never catch cold. It is very easy to do; put your nose into the water, draw it up through the nostrils and make a pump action in the throat.

Please spot a single syllable in this paragraph that shows the Swami “looking down on the asanas” and calling them a “defective path to Yoga’s goal.” If anything, the Swami clearly says that Hatha Yoga is beyond the ambit of his current focus (Raja Yoga). He neither recommends it nor condemns it conclusively. If anything, he actually recommmends taking a few lessons from Hatha Yoga. Mr. Mishra, words have meanings: “to look down upon” means “belittle, condemn.” Clever phraseology fools no one.

After hurriedly dumping Swami Vivekananda, Mishra rambles on, paragraph after paragraph resembling a Quoteathon interspersed with tidbits of his own “commentary.” He says nothing we already don’t know: the Hippies and the new-age guys completely tarnished Yoga…blah blah blah…Yoga is now equated (he says “demoted”) with fitness…more blah blah blah…middle class America made it hugely popular in the ’90s and so on until he gets to this:

But such a fetish of the “authentic” assumes that people in the country of yoga’s origin have upheld a timeless and unchanging yoga rather than practicing what Wendy Doniger, the distinguished historian of Hinduism, calls the world’s greatest “have your rice cake and eat it” religion.

Note the barely-disguised tone that, addressed to Americans, says: listen guys, don’t get worked up. You know, it’s ok, it’s just the so-called puritans that berate your Yoga. Back home in India, they’re equally screwed up. Even they don’t know what real Yoga is. And lo! who does he quote? The High Priestess of Chicago School of Indology, who has left us no record of calling Christianity “have your wine and drink it” religion. We’ll examine this in a bit when we get to what Mishra says next:

It was in India that the tradition of Tantrism first exalted the human body as the source of this-worldly liberation.

Really? And what evidence does Mishra give in support? Nothing. Nobody. The importance of the physical body as a vehicle for spiritual liberation was emphasized in the Vedas as I’ve briefly shown in the past. And further, writes Mishra,

The generation of semi-Westernized Indians who brought about the renaissance of yoga in the early 20th century were themselves syncretists, combining ideas from both East and West. Even the physical aspects that dominate yoga today are partly reimports from the West. T. Krishnamacharya (the South Indian teacher of Indra Devi), B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois borrowed from gymnastic postures introduced to India by British colonialists.

Again, Mishra doesn’t care to explain what the curious beast called “syncretist” is. Interestingly, he calls B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois as Yoga teachers while elsewhere in his article, he takes pains to explain what “true” Yoga is:

…yoga, which in India, the country of its origin, is identified as one of the six main schools of classical philosophy as well as a form of intellectual training, ethical behavior, meditation, alternative medicine and physical culture. (The Sanskrit word itself means “union,” of the individual self with the cosmic Self.)

Mishra needs to make up his mind: either his understanding of Yoga is incorrect or BKSI and Pattabhi Jois are real Yoga gurus. Either way, Mishra contradicts himself.

In the end, Pankaj Mishra does what’s best known for: writing ultra-long pieces that serve as the perfect vehicles to confound, contradict, dismiss, mislead, and generally tax the brain to the utmost. In this case, the reader will take away this message about the “essence” of Yoga–that it’s all about prolonged lovemaking, nonstop bedroom athletics, deeper orgasms, oral sex, and “have your rice cake and eat it.” Perhaps this is Pankaj Mishra’s way of venting his anger against everything that was denied to him.

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16 comments for “Guarding the White Masters’ Fortress

  1. Naras
    August 27, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    @ano
    “The end of Kama Sutra is Moksha?! What? … … and essentially the Kamasutra is a Kama-Shastra that concerns itself with Kama. It does *not* have Moksha as its end!”

    Well, Kama has Moksha as its end, just like Dharma and Artha. Its just like this – High-school physics has Quantum Physics as its end. Kama Sutra concerns itself about the Kama aspect, and as you rightly said, the physical is a small part of it. Kama can be understood as sexual desire, but also Desire in general. Sometimes its called Rakthi in Sanskrit. The desire for Moksha is one of the highest desires.

    There is a lot of Kundalini literature which talks about the sexual energy, which normally “flows downwards”, towards procreation and pleasure. It can be made to “flow upward” towards divinity, according to these sources. Osho Rajneesh has talked with great erudity and depth on these aspects.

  2. Kishkindhaa
    August 3, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Not guarding the white man’s house, but rather turning their own home into a brothel for the white man, colonials, neocolonials, missionaries, robert clives, sonia gandhis, and other sundry monotheists. Not to mention the pseudoliberals, orientalists, and witzels. These sepoys are truly shameless, they will not rest till the only remaining heathen culture in the world has been thoroughly demonized and opened up to their masters… jai ho…

  3. OverTheHill
    July 30, 2010 at 11:53 PM

    @OT: “…Facts are inconvenient, therefore make-believe is the way to go, right?…”
    “You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan (not exactly the type to look up to, but here he is on the money)

  4. Ot
    July 30, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Sorry for being offtopic but wondering where in the world is Comrade Bhagwad Jal Park? Moved out of Stanburg?

    If you’re reading this, Comrade Park, here’s something interesting for you:

    http://pewglobal.org/2010/07/29/concern-about-extremist-threat-slips-in-pakistan/

    82% of Pakistanis endorse stoning adulterers to death, and 76% support death for apostasy.

    I recall you were mighty mad when I pointed out another survey to you wherein the majority of non-Muslim Indians are seen to think of Islam as violent and intolerant.

    Facts are inconvenient, therefore make-believe is the way to go, right?

    You might want to discuss strategies for papering over this stark reality, with your bosom buddy Comrade Jai Chandru Briganza. He has been having lots of conversations these days when he’s not busy manipulating content on his own site, and one only hopes his interlocutors fall in that 18% minority that doesn’t think hurling stones at the head of a female victim buried neck deep is a civilized thing to do.

  5. July 29, 2010 at 11:35 PM

    Mishra is the quintessential sepoy. And he is not alone. In the US, there is this association of “South Asian” journalists based out of NY that is basically a melting pot of the likes of Mishra. These people like to claim that Islamic terrorism is simply a few misguided youths expressing their “valid” discontent. They call Indian army and nationalist organizations as fascist, while call totalitarian, supremacist deobandis as secular and Kashmiri muslim terrorists as guerrillas. The current biggest threat to India and to Dharma is neither totalitarian Jihadis, Islamists nor supremacist soul harvesters. It is this fifth column, the vast majority of which is made up of sepoys loyal to the sheikhs and barra sahibs. If Macaulay were alive today, he would have said, “I told you so”.

  6. Malavika
    July 29, 2010 at 8:53 PM

    Sanjay Choudhary said:
    “These sepoys then become inerpreters of non-White cultures to Goras. This is the game being played in all countries in Asia and Africa. The solution for non-Whites is to start flushing Western awards down the toilet and openly ridicule the sepoys.”

    So true, Arundhati Roy, Arvind Adiga and etc also belong to this category. They lose most of their influence if Indians treat them with the disdain they deserve. There is an interesting book named ” Impressing The Whites: The New International Slavery by Richard Crasta. In this book the author deconstructs the brown sahib syndrome.

  7. Sid
    July 29, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    A classic “Sandeep” article. America does not want to know Yoga or India, it wants to know about the Yoga and India that it thinks they are, in other words, they want to be re-confirmed in their bias. Mishra and other brown sepoys are employed to do this job (think about “Brahmins practicing Yoga along Ganges or caves in Himalayas”, you will find the same imagery when you talk to an American about Hinduism). We can not digest the likes of him, but I guess short term there is nothing we can do.

  8. gajanan
    July 29, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    here is the contact details of Shri BKSJI
    http://www.bksiyengar.com/modules/Contact/contact.htm

    I will be sending the article so that Shri BKSJI can write a rejoinder to the same paper.

    Please , plaxe a request.

  9. July 29, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Mishra is merely a brsepoy earning his keep. He is the Indian version of the House Negro. Goras have a strategy of identify opportunist non-whites eager to raise their station in life through Western patronage, raise their profile by handing out different awards and then position them against native culture and nationalists. These sepoys then become inerpreters of non-White cultures to Goras. This is the game being played in all countries in Asia and Africa. The solution for non-Whites is to start flushing Western awards down the toilet and openly ridicule the sepoys.

  10. op gupta
    July 29, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Duryodhan said I know what is dharma and what is adharma. , but I cant follow dharma.
    Duryodhan was beter than PM

  11. Malavika
    July 29, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Pankaj Mishra is the quintessential brown sepoy. Since explicit racism is no longer tenable what cannot be said by Goras is stated by the ‘brown sahibs’ chosen by the WASPs. This is not the first time he takes liberty with facts, he does this quite consistently.

    1. In an article in Tehelka he compared Indian Army with the Nazis.
    http://www.tehelka.com/story_main.asp?filename=op013004ThePullofFascism.asp
    THE PULL OF Fascism
    by Pankaj Mishra
    Italy, the US, India, across the continents, it seems the middle classes have begun to dance with the fundamental right.

    I thought of Eichmann while reading a letter from an army officer in J&K printed in a new Indian magazine. “If a crowd of few hundred, at times even a few thousand, blocks the route of security forces who have captured a militant/militants, and starts raising anti-India slogans, tries to create chaos and confusion so as to facilitate the escape of militants then in this kind of situation, the security forces have to physically remove all impediments to their task, which is lawful. And if your term for this is ‘repression,’ well, you have got your commutations (sic) wrong.” I do not know if this officer has yet been confronted with the difficult situation he describes. But it is clear that he derives the validity of his actions from the State he is sworn by law to protect and defend. It is how he manages to conceive of thousands of human beings as ‘impediments’ who have to be physically removed, through, if necessary, a massacre.”

    One has to be truly demented to compare Indian Army with Nazis, if IA was 5% as brutal as the Chinese there would not be Kashmir problem. This Jerk Mishra never had a word of reproach for American Army inspite of Haditha massacre, drones. There were reports of American Army kidnapping the women of Iraqi militants to pressure the men to surrender. None of this bothered resident ‘brown sahib’ of NYT. The less said about his ‘liberal conscience’ the better.

    2. Pankaj Mishra blamed Indian Army for the Massacre of Sikhs in Kashmir in March, 2000. He wrote several articles blaming the Indian Army in NYT, Guardian, and etc. Even though the victims(Sikhs) themselves blamed Pakistani intelligence agencies.

    Later a NYT reporter BARRY BEARAK had the following to say
    “Malik is an 18-year-old with an upstart beard and hair that falls down into his eyes. He appeared somber and tired, a suitable look for someone in his predicament. I twice offered him a chair, but he refused, preferring the floor. A heavy chain sagged between the tight manacles on his wrists. He barely moved”

    “Malik responded to every question, but his answers were spare, repeating details I had already read in a police dossier in Srinagar: he was from the city of Sialkot, in Pakistan. He belonged to the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had tutored him in marksmanship and mountain climbing. He sneaked into India in October 1999, carrying the rupee equivalent of $200 in expense money. He took part in only two missions before Chittisinghpora, one an attack on an army outpost, the other an assault on a bus carrying soldiers. He knew nothing about the plot to kill the Sikhs until immediately beforehand, as he stood in an orchard. He used his weapon when commanded. ”I fired, but I don’t know if I killed anyone,” he said laconically. ”I suppose I did. I don’t know.””
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E2DD1138F932A05751C1A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=11

    After the confession of a Paki to NYT this Mishra guy kept quiet. Ofcourse, there has been no apology or a retraction.

  12. gajanan
    July 29, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    It is a good idea to email the original article to Shri BKSI, so that Shri BKSIji can write a rejoinder to the article written by Pankaj Mishra in the online newspaper. Sandeep , you could do it or more the better.

  13. Prashant
    July 29, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Hey Sandeep,
    About Swami Vivekananda, in point (a) shouldn’t it be “he has not read …” instead of “he has read …”

  14. ano
    July 29, 2010 at 6:55 AM

    The end of Kama Sutra is Moksha?! What? The Kama Sutra may recognise that Moksha is the ultimate goal of human existence, and certainly points out that Dharma and Artha are more important than Kama, but Kama has its place, and essentially the Kamasutra is a Kama-Shastra that concerns itself with Kama. It does *not* have Moksha as its end!

    Also yes, it is not a sex manual but a descriptive sociological work about sex, love and other aspects of kama. But it does contain chapters on different kinds of love-making, which can be viewed as a manual if you wish, and this “manual” part has often been the part published in many “popular” books.

    It would take quite a bit of imagination and twisting of meaning to interpret it as having nothing to do with sex but with spirituality and moksha, when it’s all stated in such straightforward terms. :-) You can see the table of contents on Wikipedia or just pick up any copy of the original and read for yourself; the Sanskrit text is also available online.

  15. July 29, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Pankaj Mishra, Deepa Mehta. Mira Nair etc are just mercenaries and nothing else. This appropriation and theft they justify from all quarters is at the behest of their white masters and not due to a well of emotion. And they probably get paid damn well for that.
    I have more respect for the jihadi that blows himself up because his hatred comes from a deep place as opposed to these people who are white boards on which their masters can input anything for some moolah and recognition. Even dogs are better than them.
    This kind of blatant theft is not unusual for NYT which uses Indian sepoys to do the dirty on “Kashmir”, “caste”, “IP theft (llike this) and so on and so forth. Western media is mouthpiece for western oligarchists and these folks are descendants of the same folks that came to India and almost destroyed her 400 years ago. Same people that claimed Sanskrit came from Europe as did the Aryans and anything glorious about India. They are extending the same to yoga.
    The fight is going to get bad and we should be willing to get dirty.

  16. Smith JM
    July 29, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    “Even the physical aspects that dominate yoga today are partly reimports from the West. T. Krishnamacharya (the South Indian teacher of Indra Devi), B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois borrowed from gymnastic postures introduced to India by British colonialists”

    The writer PM in NYT.

    Cricket, I can undertand as a British import, but not Gymnastics or its postures.

    It was the Germans and Swedes who were pioneers in gymnastics in 19th century, later adopted by USA , Canada, USSR and very well by China.

    The writer PM in NYT is taking advantage of his reputation and indulging in blowing hot air in print.

    It would be interesting to hear a reply from the master BKS Iyengar himself.

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